My wife did not enjoy this sort if cruising, so eventually I parked the cat and bought a more sedate live-aboard boat, a 1,100lb 16ft Com-Pac sailboat with a fixed keel. Designed by renowned master boatwright Clark Mills and made by the Hutchins Company in Clearwater, Florida, it was the trailerable sailboat of my dreams. As soon as I met Les Hutchins, an energetic man with an idea for fabricating a sturdy cruiser small enough to be easily boxed and shipped around the world, I knew the boat would be a winner. That’s when I began to appreciate what these maintenance-free fiberglass marvels had to offer.
I started learning how to love boats again. Boats are always of the feminine gender. You never hear a seaman say, “Well I took him out today and sailed the hell out of him.” No, we say, “Man, she’s a doll. I eased in the main and she picked up speed like a filly heading for the barn. Wow, I think she did over 5 knots!” Our wives just smile. They’ve heard that song before.
I got busy making my new boat comfortable, because I expected her to last me for the long haul. She has. Currently, she’s in her prime at 34 years old. That doesn’t mean she hasn’t needed some cosmetic work along the way. Recently, her long wooden tiller was unshipped, sanded, and carefully varnished. To merely touch that silky curved stick, let alone to hold it, is pure joy. Again, my wife just shakes her head and grins.
Similarly, new colors in the cabin brightened the boat instantly. The smell of new paint set my nose to quivering. The oiled mahogany bulkheads add an accompanying smell of lemons. The swinging brass lantern hanging on the wood compression post has been highly polished and provides a fitting golden glow in the cabin. Shaded reading lights have been installed to illuminate the books we read while tucked into our berths at anchor. I mounted a stereo tape deck in the port book rack and tested that the sound was properly balanced between the port and starboard speakers. I added a small chemical head that stows under the bridge deck. I beefed up the port and starboard berths with extra foam. An easily rolled up bimini lets us sail in the shade.
Customizing the boat to keep my favorite lady comfortable has been as addictive as fixing up the Snipe. This should come as no surprise. For most trailer sailors the “fixing up” part is as much fun as the sailing itself. I continue to refine my fleet of boats, which now includes a slightly roomier 19ft Com-Pac cruiser.
Sailing is a unique pleasure, a way to quietly enjoy the beauty of nature. Especially memorable are those glorious magical moments that sailors seem to savor more than most boaters, perhaps because we have time to enjoy them longer.
One year, four of us trailered a pair of 16ft Com-Pacs down to the Florida Keys and sailed 30 miles west of Key West to the Marquesas Cays. We sailed all around these cays, which are named for the Spanish Marquis de Calderita who headed up the search for the lost galleon Atocha. The famed treasure hunter Mel Fisher found a huge pile of gold coins and silver bars within sight of these deserted mangrove islands, and the scatter pattern of treasure is believed to stretch for miles. “Be watchful when you dive for lobsters,” he once told me.
We lived off lobsters and seafood for a week before heading home. It eventually became an annual event, one filled with all kinds of memorable Zen moments.
Some say that Zen means “meditation,” but California sailor and author Chris Caswell describes the Zen of sailing somewhat differently, and in a way we can all understand. As an example, Caswell tells how he coped with the madness he and his wife went through when a bevy of relatives descended on them one holiday season:
“My wife, She Who Must Be Obeyed, sensed my angst a few years ago and made an excuse for me to slip out of the house for the afternoon. ‘Go sailing,’ she said, adding pointedly, ‘and meditate.’”
Caswell took her up on it. “It was one of those crystalline California winter days when the sun is bright but not too hot, the sky is clear, and it all seems right with the world,” he wrote.
“I raised just the mainsail, and as I was sailing along, I did as I was told and slipped into a meditative state of mind that was receptive to my surroundings. I heard, as if for the first time, the burble of the wake. I could see with clarity the flow of wind across the Dacron. I felt—really felt—the coarse stiffness of the braided lines. I had discovered sailing Zen: It is the sound of one sail flapping.
“So every afternoon during that holiday season I resolutely gathered up my sailing gear and disappeared to the boat. But here’s the interesting thing: there really is a Zen side to sailing.
“All it takes is to observe, really observe, the boat around you. In the chrome of a winch, there is a wonderful reflection of the sail overhead. If you are open, your fingertips can sense the grain of the mahogany tiller through layers of varnish.
“Focus your mind, and you can feel the puff of wind on the water to windward before it hits. You ARE the puff of wind. BE the puff of wind.
“Forgive me because I get a little confused by Zen and Buddhism… but I know that disciples of one or the other make a sort of ‘Ommmmmm’ sound to calm themselves. I’ve discovered that my Harken roller blocks make exactly that same sound as I feed out the mainsheet onto a reach. At least they do as long as I keep them clean and oiled.
“Yes, sailing alone allows me to achieve a oneness that I could never reach when surrounded by babbling relatives.”
Today I understand that the enlightened Chris Caswell, who may still be running from his relatives, is now sailing and searching for more Zen moments in Florida’s warm waters.
All I can say about that is, “Ommmmmm…